Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rebbe Nachman on “Wedding Customs”

(Painting by Elena Flerova)

Rebbe Nachman on “Wedding Customs” [1]

Sichos HaRan 86 / “Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom” (Breslov Research Institute 1974)

Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, with minor corrections and modifications for this website.

Please note that these customs reflect the Jewish culture of Rebbe Nachman’s Ukraine more than two hundred years ago. Some things have changed. We have posted this teaching in honor of the wedding of Rabbi Moshe Nachman Weiss, son of Rabbi and Mrs. Ephraim Zev Weiss, and Shifra, daughter of Rabbi and Mrs. Avraham Moshe Wasilski, to be celebrated on Monday evening, 22 Teves / January 16th in Williamsburg. May both families and the entire Breslover community have much nachas and simchah!

It is customary that people get up and say humorous things at a wedding. It is also customary to begin by saying “ Ehla—Rise!”

The Talmud says, “A woman may rise with her husband, but does not descend with him. “[2]

People say, “Rise!” along with the humor, for the bride will rise with her husband with every joy and pleasure, but not descend with him.[3]

It is customary to cover the bride's face with a veil. Rachel is “the beautiful girl who has no eyes.”[4] This is the bride.

It is written (Proverbs 25:2), “G-d's glory is to hide a thing.” This also speaks of the bride.[5]

It is customary to throw baked goods at the groom. It is written (Ezekiel 1:20), “Wherever the spirit went, the Ophanim were lifted up.”[6]

An Ophan is an angel. Baked goods are Ophin. The similar spelling indicates a similarity in essence.

The groom is the paradigm of the “spirit.”[7] Wherever the groom goes, baked goods are lifted up.[8]

It is customary to give money to the dancers at a wedding. This is called “Sabbath Money.”

It is written (Psalms 68:1.3), “Hosts of angels[9] throng and whirl, and she who stays home divides the spoil.”[10]

The dancers throng and whirl. When they are given money, they “divide the spoil.”

The revelation at Sinai was a wedding. It is written (Song of Songs 3:11), “His mother crowned him on the day of his wedding.” This is the revelation at Sinai.[11]

Mount Sinai is also a ladder.

Take the letters of the word SINaI and turn them into numbers. The Gematria then gives you SuLaM (ladder)

Samech = 60
Yud = 10
Nun = 50
Yud = 10
Total: 130

SuLaM - Ladder:
Samech = 60
Lamed = 30
Mem = 40
Total: 130

This is the ladder in Jacob's dream.

It is written (Genesis 28:12), “And behold a ladder ... and angels of G-d went up and down on it.”
The dancers go up and down, raising and lowering their bodies. They dance on the ladder of Sinai—the day of the wedding.

The money given to the dancers is called “Sabbath Money.”

It is written, “She who stays home divides the spoil.” This is the money given the dancers, as mentioned earlier.

In Hebrew, this verse is U’Nevas Bayis V’chalek Shalel. The first letters of the words spell out ShaBaT - the Sabbath.[12]

It is customary for the groom to give a scholarly discourse. It is written, “His mother crowned him on the day of his wedding.” The wedding is the revelation at Sinai. The groom speaks words of Torah, just like G-d did at Sinai.

It is customary to present the groom with gifts. These are called Derashah Geshank— ”Discourse Gifts.”

It is written (Psalms 68:19), “You have ascended on high, you have captured the prize, you have received gifts from among men.” These are the gifts given to the groom.

It is said that the groom's lecture helps to unite the couple.

Before Jacob saw the dream of the ladder, it is written (Genesis 28:11), “And he lay down in that place.”

“And he lay down” is VaYiShKav. This also spells Vi-Yesh Kaf-Beis— ”and there are 22.” These are the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet.[13]

The lecture unites 22 letters into words of Torah, just as the couple is united.[14]

It is customary for the dancers to do Pristakes, raising and lowering their bodies.

It is written (Genesis 46:4), “1 will go down to Egypt with you, and I will bring you up.” This is symbolized by the up and down motions.

“I will go down with you to Egypt.” The exile in Egypt was to gather together the holy sparks from Adam's wasted seed.[15]

“I will bring you up.” When Israel left Egypt this was accomplished and the Covenant of Abraham was rectified.

A wedding is also a rectification of the Covenant.[16]

We therefore dance to symbolize the exile and redemption.

It is customary to interrupt the bridegroom's lecture. This symbolizes the breaking of the Tablets.

It is customary for the best man to dress the bridegroom in the Kittel, a plain white linen robe.

It is written (Ibid.) “And Joseph will place his band on your eyes.” The son closes his father's eyes upon death.”[17]

Joseph is the best man.[18]

The Kittel is the garment of the dead.[19] It is Joseph who makes this preparation for death.
It is customary for the dancers to do somersaults.

The revelation at Sinai was a wedding. There it is written (Exodus 19:3), “And Moses went up.” It is also written (ibid. 19:20), “And G-d descended onto Mount Sinai.” Sinai then involved “the superior below and the inferior above.”[20] Thus the dancers engage in somersaults.


[1] These reasons were revealed to Rabbi Yudel and Rabbi Shmuel Isaac on Shemini Atzeres 5563 (Oct. 17, 1802), just a few weeks after the Rebbe arrived in Breslov. This was also just a few months before the wedding of his daughter Sarah. On the Sabbath after the wedding, 3 Nissan (Mar. 25, 1803), he delivered the lesson in Likutey Moharan I, 49, also discussing these same customs. Parparos LeChokhmah a.l., Shevachey Moharan 6a (23).

[2] Kesubos 48a, 61a.

[3] A somewhat different reason is given in Likutey Moharan I, 49:7.

[4] Zohar II, 95a, Netzutzey Oros a.l., Pri Etz Chaim, Keriyas Sh'ma, end of chap. 24. Rachel is the true bride of Zer Anpin, the transcendental groom. She has such pure faith that she is blind to anything that may question it. See Likutey Moharan I, 62:5, above, 32.

[5] ”Glory” always refers to Malkhus or Royalty, which in the Kabbalah is personified by the transcendental bride, Rachel.

[6] The wording in the Hebrew text is somewhat different than the actual scripture.

[7] We have emended Rabbi Kaplan's translation here (ed.).

[8] Of the parts of the soul, Ruach or spirit is the counterpart of Zer Anpin, the groom. The Ophanim are angels of Asiyah, the lowest supernal world, which also corresponds to the feminine element. Throwing baked goods thus unites male and female. Also see Likutey Halakhos (Even HaEzer), Kiddushin 2:8.

[9] The Biblical reading here is Malkhey, kings. Here, however, the Talmudic reading of Shabbos 68b is used, namely Malakhey, angels. A number of other places indicate that the verse actually speaks of angels, cf. Mechilta to Exodus 20:16; Shemos Rabbah 33:4; Devarim Rabbah 7:10, 11:3. This is resolved by a statement that the verse actually refers to the archangels, the “kings of angels”; cf. BaMidbar Rabbah 11:5; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 11:12; Koheles Rabbah 9:12; Paneach Raza, Yisro, p. 114b.

[10] See Alim LeTerufah 397.

[11] Ta'anis 4:8 (26b).

[12] Cf. Likutey Moharan I, 49:7.

[13] Tikuney Zohar 18 (34a), 70 (132b); Etz Chaim, Shaar HaYere'ach 3; Likutey Moharan II, 79.

[14] Song of Songs 1:4 is interpreted to apply both to a happy marriage and to the 22 letters of the Torah in Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:31, 32. Cf. Eitz Chaim, loc. cit.; Likutey Moharan II, 89; Kesubos 10b.

[15] Likutey Moharan II, 5:10. Cf. Shemonah She’arim; Shaar Hamitzvos on Deut. 16:3; Shaar HaKavanos, Pesach 1.

[16] This refers to the atonement of sexual sins, for a bridegroom is forgiven all his sins. Yerushalmi, Bikurim 3:3 (11b); Rashi on Gen. 36:3; Magen Avraham 573; Bais Shmuel 61:6. The giving of the Torah, the wedding of G d and Israel, took place right after the Exodus.

[17] Tur Yoreh Deah 352. Cf. Shabbos 23:5 (151b).

[18] The best man makes the preparations for the groom, just as Joseph paved the way for Jacob, who symbolizes the transcendental groom, as mentioned earlier. Cf. Bava Basra 123a.

[19] Orach Chaim 610:4, in hagahah. The groom wears the kittel to remind him that he, too, is mortal, and therefore must repent.

[20] Cf. Sichos HaRan 40.

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